Age-related Macular Degeneration

Change in Prevalence, Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD),
Age 50 and Older

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition that primarily affects the part of the retina responsible for sharp central vision. There are two forms:

1. Dry AMD (non-exudative) is the most common form of the disease. Early AMD involves the presence of drusen, fatty deposits under the light-sensing cells in the retina. Late cases of dry AMD may also involve atrophy of the supportive layer under the light-sensing cells in the retina that helps keep those cells healthy. Vision loss in early dry AMD is usually moderate and only slowly progressive. Atrophy in late cases of dry AMD can result in more significant vision loss.

2. Wet AMD (exudative) is less common, but is more threatening to vision. It's called wet AMD because of the growth of tiny new blood vessels (neovascularization) under the retina that leak fluid or break open. This distorts vision and causes scar tissue to form. All cases of the wet form are considered late AMD.

The exact cause of AMD is unknown, but risk factors for the disease include age (rarely affecting those under age 50), White race and cigarette smoking. Research also suggests that long-term diets low in certain antioxidant nutrients may increase the risk of AMD. Because AMD often damages central vision, it is likely the most common cause of legal blindness and vision impairment in older Americans.

Unfortunately, there is no generally-accepted treatment for dry AMD. Laser therapies to destroy leaking blood vessels can help reduce the risk of advancing vision loss in many cases of wet AMD. Research has shown that certain doses of zinc, vitamins A and C, and beta-carotene can help control the advance of late AMD, but appear to have no effect in preventing the disease in otherwise healthy individuals.

Only cases of late AMD involving geographic atrophy or neovascularization are included in the Vision Problems in the U.S. prevalence estimates. Over 2 million Americans age 50 and older have late AMD.